**** out of *****
“300” is a big, bold, bloody movie where “subtlety” is manifested in shot after shot of Spartan and Persian warriors being dismembered in slow motion.
The film also alludes to (or steals from) every epic that preceded it, including liberal doses from “Gladiator.” (Critic Richard Roeper compared the film to a cross between “Gladiator” and “Sin City.”)
Yet, despite its propensity for bludgeoning the audience with gory visuals, and its relative unoriginality, there were more than a few moments in the film that made me smile to myself, and at least one moment where I felt like cheering; it’s not every film that elicits that kind of response.
“300,” based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller, is the highly-stylized retelling of the historic Battle of Thermopylae, where 300 Spartan warriors faced off against a quarter of a million Persians. The Spartans were eventually defeated (that’s not a plot spoiler), but their sacrifice and valor have resonated for thousands of years now, and this is the reason why we’re still telling their story.
The Spartans are led by King Leonidas (Gerard Butler), a man who exemplifies the Spartan virtues of courage, intellect, and refusal to yield.
Early scenes show an adolescent Leonidas facing down a demoniacal wolf and spearing it with nary a flinch. And later, when a Persian envoy confronts Leonidas and tells him that he must bow before the Persian king Xerxes, Leonidas kicks the envoy into a bottomless pit.
Leonidas can’t take the entire Spartan army to face Xerxes because it is contrary to the wishes of the city’s oracle, but the Spartan king is not one to sit and wait, and so he takes a contingent of 300 men – his “bodyguards,” he tells the city elders – to face the Persians before they reach Sparta.
But all this is really just the appetizer to the film’s main event – the Battle of Thermopylae, depicted here as a kind of Greek Alamo (or perhaps the Battle of the Alamo is an American Thermopylae).
In any case, the battle scenes in “300” are something to behold; sprawling, slow-motion scenes of bloody ballet where arrows blot out the sun, spears disembowel their victims, and primal cries pierce the air.
I especially admired the battle’s first few minutes which depict the strategic brilliance of the Greek phalanx, as the Spartans cut down rows of Persian soldiers without losing a man.
The film is not without its faults. Most of the characters are psychologically shallow, thus making it somewhat difficult to care about what happens to them (though Butler does well in a role that requires more presence that actual performance). And the utilization of slow motion, while initially exhilarating, sometimes veers the film’s tone towards melodrama.
Nevertheless, “300” is admirable as a film of unabashed energy and bravado, much like the Spartans it depicts.
Movie reviewer Jeff Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the individual author and not necessarily those of the Collegian.